South Jordan school holds inclusive performance of Disney’s ‘Frozen’

Apr 11, 2022, 10:29 PM | Updated: Jun 11, 2022, 10:33 pm

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Early Light Academy in South Jordan wrapped up its production of Disney’s “Frozen” Monday night, but this show was not like others. Two of their five nights were “inclusion performances,” where 13-cast members have special needs.

It’s an idea theater teacher Toni Butler had wanted to try for years. With the help of Inclusion Cheer and Kensington Academy, she was able to do it.

“I like doing theater in a way that is a little bit bigger than theater, right. What’s the purpose? What makes us better as we watch it?” Butler said.

After directing hundreds of shows over the past two decades, Butler says this one stands out.

“Watching my own students coming and start working with inclusion kids — at first, there’s a learning curve where they’re awkward, they don’t how to talk, they don’t know how to approach,” Butler said.

But after a short time, things started to change.

“They became friends and they started seeing each other as equals, and I just think that’s so beautiful,” Butler said.

(Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez) (Courtesy: Chelsea Lopez)

Cassandra Zaugg is a student at Early Light Academy. She’s one of the “buddy actors” who assists those with special needs. She described the experience as one of the most amazing of her life.

Her hope is the inclusion actors feel the same.

“We all absolutely adore them, and we’ve always tried to make sure they’ve had a wonderful time because we’ve had a wonderful time with them,” Zaugg said as she sat next to Emma Tyckson, an inclusion actor who plays a snow dancer.

Inclusion Cheer founder Chelsea Lopez has worked with kids and adults with special needs for years. She’s Toni Butler’s niece and helped this inclusive production take place.

“We talk so much about how great this is for our inclusion actors,” Lopez said. “But one thing a lot of people don’t realize is how it’s just as great for the neurotypical kids as well.”

Lopez said real inclusion like this will benefit everyone for years to come.

“For them to be able to learn and be around these kids, it’s going to affect them in every other area of their life — so, in school, they’re going to be more accepting and inclusive; at their workplaces, they’re going to be more accepting and inclusive; seriously, on the streets, in the store,” Lopez said.

Butler believes the key to successful inclusion starts here in the schools.

“You have to start immersing yourself into this kind of thing for it to become the norm,” she said. “It’s been beautiful watching the journey.”

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South Jordan school holds inclusive performance of Disney’s ‘Frozen’